Center for Regenerative Medicine

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Imagine a time when doctors can stimulate healthy growth in patients’s bodies or replace diseased and damaged tissues and organs with healthy ones grown in the laboratory. The long, agonizing wait for organ transplants would be over. Cures would exist for a host of deadly and debilitating conditions, from spinal cord injuries to cystic fibrosis, to kidney failure, to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Center for Regenerative Medicine—known by its acronym CReM—was organized to bring together researchers in schools and departments across Boston University and from Boston Medical Center. Established in 2008 at Boston University School of Medicine, CReM was a place to conduct groundbreaking research in regenerative medicine—and to share that research with the rest of the world.

Regenerative medicine can sound like science fiction. Indeed, the extraordinary future described above is many years away, even under optimistic scenarios. Nevertheless, the promise of regenerative medicine—a field that encompasses stem cell research, tissue engineering, and gene therapy—is very real. The US Department of Health and Human Services has called regenerative medicine “the vanguard of 21st century healthcare.”

Scientists have engineered cells in the laboratory and used them to build organs that were successfully transplanted into humans. A few people are living healthy lives today with bioengineered bladders, windpipes, and urethra. Developing more complex organs, such as the heart or lung, will require major advances, but the techniques of regenerative medicine are already being used in other ways. Stem cell engineering allows scientists to safely test promising, but potentially dangerous, drugs in the laboratory. Stem cell research also is being used to develop treatments tailored to specific individuals—the first steps toward the goal of affordable personalized medicine.

A bold approach: Advancing science to heal the world

Medical research is a competitive arena. Pharmaceutical companies, along with their partners in academia, typically guard their findings and file for patents so they can reap future profits from their discoveries.

The Center for Regenerative Medicine believes there is a better way. “We are trying to lead the nation to a new way of conducting research and advancing science that is not exclusive,” says Center Director Darrell Kotton, an associate professor of medicine and pathology.

The Center’s website is open to anyone anywhere in the world; it contains free downloads of genetic engineering recipes and protocols developed at the Center. If a researcher needs additional assistance, staff members at the Center are available, as are reagents and other materials that outside researchers might need to conduct experiments.

One of the most important discoveries at the Center for Regenerative Medicine came from the laboratory of Assistant Professor Gustavo Mostoslavsky, who developed a technique for reprogramming skin or blood cells into stem cells, which then can be differentiated to cells for other organs. The Center has provided the reagent that Professor Mostoslavsky used in this groundbreaking procedure to more than 500 laboratories around the world.

The Center also is committed to educating the next generation of researchers in the principles of open source science. Undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows who come to the Center learn not only the science of regenerative medicine but also practices that will ensure that this remarkable field benefits humankind.

“If your goal is to help patients, then you have to behave a certain way,” Professor Kotton says. “You are obligated to share, and you must do everything you can to get the knowledge out as quickly, as cheaply, and as widely as possible.”

Reprogramming cells, breaking new ground

While the science behind regenerative medicine is extraordinarily complex, the idea behind it is simple. Take cells from a patient, engineer them in the laboratory, and then administer them back to the patient to restore or establish normal function of cells, tissues, or organs.

An important focus of the CReM is a technology discovered in 2006: induced pluripotent stem cells. These are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to function like embryonic stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells could be the key to the discovering how to repair damaged cells and tissues.

One group at the CReM works on the lung, an important area for research, as few effective treatments exist for many lung diseases. Another team works on diseases of the gastrointestinal system and liver. A separate group studies blood diseases, in particular sickle cell disease. An orthopedic group is working to find ways for the body to recover from fractures and other injuries.

“Sooner than we think”

Scientists at the center also are studying the basic biology of stem cells. These researchers are discovering the nature of stem cells, how we make them, and what mechanisms control them. From the School of Engineering, researchers are discovering how to apply biological processes and materials to repair or replace damaged tissues.

The CReM maintains a state-of-the-art bank of frozen induced pluripotent cell lines that have been derived by the Center’s investigators. These cells are made available to anyone from the University interested in doing research in this area.

Professor Kotton believes the day will come when regenerative medicine will cure many of the diseases that afflict humans today. He says he does not know when, but he hazards this prediction: “Sooner than we think.”

Investing in a healthier future

The Center for Regenerative Medicine is at the forefront of an exciting new field that promises to revolutionize healthcare worldwide. The center has become a model for openness in scientific research, guided by its mission of advancing science to heal the world.

Although the CReM receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies, the Center cannot achieve its goals without individual philanthropic support. Many of the features of the center’s open source approach—from administering cell banks to transferring knowledge to investigators around the world—do not fall into traditional funding categories and must rely on private donations.

Additional philanthropic support also would allow the center to pursue more speculative projects, which might not meet the requirements of more conservative funders but which hold the promise of great advances if successful. Private funding also will allow the center to recruit the best and brightest faculty researchers, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows.

A donation to the research of the Center for Regenerative Medicine is an investment in the health of our children and grandchildren tomorrow and a healthier world today.

Sample giving opportunities

  • Create and name an endowed professorship for the faculty of the program: $1.25 million for an assistant professor, $2.5 million for a full professor
  • Endow a research fund: $100,000
  • Endow a scholarship for a BUSM student: $100,000
  • Endow a postdoctoral fellowship: $100,000
  • Create a current-use fellowship award: $10,000
  • Provide unrestricted support as a member of the BUSM Dean’s Club: $1,500 and above